Launching a freelance writing career is challenging but incredibly rewarding. This comprehensive guide covers everything an aspiring writer needs to know to start working as a successful freelancer, even with no prior professional experience.
What is Freelance Writing?
Before assessing if this career path is right for you, let’s clearly define what freelance writing involves.
Freelance writing simply means being hired on a contract basis to create high-quality written content for various clients. Common examples of freelance writing work include:
- Blog articles and posts
- Website copy, like “About Us” pages
- Ebooks and whitepapers
- Magazine and newspaper articles
- Press releases
- Social media posts
- Sales letters and email campaigns
- Product descriptions
- Proposals and reports
- Book editing and proofreading
- Ghostwriting books, articles, or content
Rather than working as a staff writer for one publication or company, freelance writers get to choose their clients and projects. You might write about software one week, and healthy recipes the next. This variety and flexibility is appealing to many.
However, freelancing also comes with distinct challenges:
- Income varies month-to-month based on contracts
- Constantly need to find and pitch new clients
- No paid time off or company benefits
- Potential sense of isolation when working alone
Freelancing can be done on a full or part-time basis. It’s common for writers to keep a “day job” and freelance on the nights/weekends initially as they build their business.
With dedication and persistence, it’s certainly possible to develop a thriving full-time freelance writing career. First you need to have the right skills and mindset.
Is Freelance Writing Right For You?
Carefully consider if freelance writing truly suits your abilities, interests, and professional goals. Be brutally honest with this self-assessment. Freelancing isn’t for everyone.
Do You Genuinely Enjoy Writing?
This may seem obvious, but a true passion for writing is a baseline requirement for succeeding in this field. If you don’t gain immense satisfaction and meaning from writing, choose another career path now and avoid disappointment later.
Freelancing involves writing about unfamiliar, often technical topics, on tight deadlines. You won’t solely work on projects you’re naturally passionate about. The fulfillment must come from the writing process itself.
Strong Writing Skills
Exceptional writing skills are mandatory. Having an extensive vocabulary, perfect grammar, and spellcheck won’t cut it alone. Successful freelance writers need to:
- Adapt their writing style and tone for diverse audiences and formats. From a technical whitepaper one day to a breezy blog post the next.
- Quickly research and comprehend complex topics they have no background in. Then clearly explain these concepts to others.
- Write persuasively to motivate action or change opinions depending on client goals.
- Organize large amounts of information into coherent, structured narratives.
- Meticulously edit their own work or implement editor feedback.
If you lack some of these advanced skills, you must be ready to dedicate substantial time to improving them before pitching clients. Continually perfecting your writing abilities even after you “make it” is critical.
Broad Interests Outside Your Expertise
One day you may need to write about blockchain technology, and the next about remodeling a home kitchen. Freelancers often have to research and write authoritatively about topics well outside their current knowledge base.
If you only want to cover certain niches aligned with your existing interests and background, a staff writing role may end up being a better fit.
Self-Motivated and Disciplined
Perhaps one of the most vital yet underestimated requirements for succeeding in freelance writing is being extremely self-driven. Without a boss overseeing your work, you must maintain focus and productivity during your business hours.
Distractions and procrastination must be actively managed. Lacking discipline and time management skills will sink your freelance goals quickly.
Additionally, you need motivation to push yourself to achieve results on challenging projects even when feeling uninspired. Freelancing involves getting work done regardless of mood or creative sparks.
Willingness to Promote Yourself
Freelancers are one-person marketing agencies responsible for securing their next paycheck. If you dread self-promotion and networking, you’ll struggle to get your name out there and convert prospects into paying clients.
Enthusiasm for putting yourself and your writing in front of potential clients is a major plus. Freelancers who boldly reach out and follow up ultimately win the most business.
Take an honest assessment of your abilities and temperament in the above areas. Building expertise takes time, but your underlying aptitude for the freelance writing lifestyle matters greatly.
Building Your Foundation as a Freelance Writer
Once committed to starting your freelance writing career, take these crucial foundational steps:
Create a Writing Portfolio
A diverse portfolio showcasing your skills is mandatory for attracting clients as a beginner. Writing samples prove to prospects you can create the types of content they need.
Shoot for 6-10 published samples highlighting different skills:
- Blog posts – Get some posts published on relevant sites to demonstrate blogging abilities. Vary topics and styles.
- Articles – Write a few 500+ word articles or guest posts tailored to client industries you’re targeting.
- Case studies – Craft an example B2B case study for a product or service you’d like to write about.
- Whitepapers – Develop a mock whitepaper introduction on an interesting industry topic.
- Website copy – Write some sample website content like “About Us” pages for imaginary brands.
- Ebooks – Create a chapter excerpt on tips related to your niche.
Having these writing samples already published online is ideal. If needed at first, you can include “private” unpublished samples as well.
Format your portfolio pieces professionally with engaging images, graphics, and videos. Well-presented content shows clients you know how to catch readers’ eyes.
Build Your Online Presence
Establish profiles that enable prospective clients to quickly learn about you and your services.
- Website – A polished site with your portfolio, client testimonials, offerings, and contact info. This is your online headquarters.
- LinkedIn – A robust profile with recommendations is essential. Be active posting insights and connecting.
- Twitter – Useful for engaging with those in your niche and promoting your business.
- Facebook – Consider a Facebook Page showcasing your work and achievements.
- Medium – Post articles here to establish yourself as an expert.
- Industry forums – Comment on niche sites/forums to make connections.
Ensure your profiles are consistent, professional, and optimized to attract writing clients. Don’t skip this step!
Establishing Your Niche as a Freelance Writer
It’s strategic to establish expertise in a particular industry or writing niche as a freelancer. A niche focus helps attract ideal clients much faster.
Choosing a Niche
First, brainstorm industry sectors, topics, and content types you may want to specialize in. Analyze your:
- Education, degrees, and past jobs
- Areas of deep background knowledge
- Personal interests, hobbies, and passions
- Business trends and profitable niches
Next, narrow your list down to just 1-3 niches to start with. Less is more initially. Consider niches like:
- Finance, accounting, and insurance
- Software, technology, and cybersecurity
- Legal and law
- Healthcare, medical, and pharmaceutical
- Marketing, advertising, and PR
- Travel, hospitality, and tourism
Research market demand, target clients, and opportunities in your prospective niches. Join related forums and groups to build knowledge.
Over time, you can add more niches to your expertise repertoire. However, establishing your brand in even one profitable niche takes significant effort.
Becoming a Niche Authority
Once you’ve selected your initial niche(s), work diligently to become a subject matter authority:
- Read industry news, publications, and sites daily
- Follow key companies and influencers on social media
- Attend live/virtual conferences and events when possible
- Take online courses related to the niche
- Join professional associations if applicable
- Get niche-relevant certifications or accreditations
Prospects seeking writers want experts who already comprehend their industry’s terminology, challenges, trends, and audiences. With niche expertise, you can write confidently right out of the gate.
Finding Your First Freelance Writing Clients
Securing those critical first paid gigs with no experience can be challenging. But with a strategic approach, it’s very doable.
Leverage Online Job Boards
Sign up for popular freelance job boards and set up alerts for entry-level writing opportunities:
- ProBlogger – Great source of blogging jobs and guest posts.
- Contena – Specializes in content marketing/writing roles.
- Mediabistro – Primarily digital media and journalism gigs.
- Flexjobs – Vetted remote and freelance jobs across fields.
- LinkedIn Jobs – Broad job board including writing/editing postings.
- Upwork – Leading freelance platform with writing projects.
Check listings daily and apply to any jobs you match at least 50% of requirements for. Carefully customize your resume and cover letter for each application. Follow up promptly if you get an interview request.
With persistence and a polished resume, you can land entry-level assignments via job boards.
Guest Post for Popular Niche Websites
Guest posting on industry-specific blogs and sites helps build your portfolio and name recognition.
- Identify 10-15 top sites in your niche(s) to pitch guest posts to.
- Email the editor or admin address offering to write an article tailored to their audience.
- Follow up tactfully if you don’t immediately hear back. Don’t be pushy.
- Once a post is accepted, ensure it over-delivers on value to build a positive relationship for future opportunities.
Guest posting not only grows your published samples, it connects you to influential contacts.
Take on Smaller Paid Writing Gigs
When first starting out, you may need to accept some less-than-ideal freelance writing gigs to gain experience:
- Short blog posts for $20-40 each
- 500-word articles or product descriptions for 2-5 cents per word
- Editing/proofreading work for $15-25 per hour
The pay is modest, but these projects quickly add portfolio pieces and client referrals. As you gain credits, increase your rates and progress to more advanced assignments.
Consider Working for Free…Selectively
Most seasoned freelance writers never advise working for free. However, when you have zero previous samples, doing 1-2 small projects on spec or for free can be effective if they clearly align with your portfolio goals.
For example, contributing one well-researched guest post to an industry blog you’d like to write for in the future can make sense early on.
Just be highly selective about unpaid gigs and limit them to 1-2 max. Ensure the opportunity, exposure, and experience justifies the time investment. Never work extensive periods without pay.
Setting Your Rates as a Beginner
When first starting out, set affordable rates as you build expertise. But don’t undervalue yourself or work for unsustainably low pay.
Research Market Ranges
Thoroughly research typical rates in your niche for the types of writing projects you want to do.
Average starting ranges include:
- Blog posts – $25-$50 each
- 500-word articles – $50-$150
- Whitepapers – $150-$300+
- Ebooks – $500 – $1,000+
Price towards the lower end of those brackets when pitching new clients. Be willing to negotiate a bit, but avoid bottom barrel pricing.
Significantly discounting rates to land clients initially can work, but make sure to steadily raise them once you build a relationship and prove your value.
Be Transparent About Your Experience Level
When contacting prospects, be upfront that you’re an emerging freelance writer building your portfolio. Many will still give you a shot if you have solid samples and niche expertise.
Offer introductory discounted rates to provide added incentive for clients to take a chance on you. But emphasize that your rates will increase moderately as you gain experience.
Boost Income with High-Volume Work
At the start, also consider higher-volume writing work (if writing speedily comes naturally to you) as this can generate more income:
- Blog networks paying $15-25 per post
- Search engine optimized articles at 2-5 cents per word
- Writing product descriptions at 1-3 cents per word
Just be cautious about overcommitting your time. It’s fine to do some higher-paying volume work short term while ramping up, but avoid getting “stuck” doing only 100 blog posts a month long-term.
Getting Paid: Setting Expectations with Clients
As a beginner, you must proactively set clear payment expectations and policies from the start to ensure you actually get paid. Never leave wage discussions open-ended.
Using Written Freelance Contracts
Have new clients agree to a simple freelance contract detailing the nature of work, timeline, payment amount, and invoicing expectations.
Clearly outline payment terms before commencing major projects. Non-paying clients exploit informal agreements.
Easy-to-customize contract templates are available from sites like Shake and PandaDoc. Lawyers can create more comprehensive agreements once your business grows.
Breaking Up Big Projects
Avoid doing large amounts of work before any guaranteed payment. With new clients, break bigger writing projects into milestones with incremental payments.
- 25% upfront upon contract signing
- 25% upon outline completion
- 25% upon draft delivery
- 25% upon final approval
This ensures some compensation if the client stops responding once you’ve started. Payments for each milestone also incentivize the client to keep providing feedback for you to complete the next deliverable.
Send Professional Invoices
Promptly send clients polished invoices upon completing milestones or projects.
Clearly state payment terms like “Net 15 days”. This specifies they need to pay within 15 days of receiving the invoice.
Accepting late payments sets a poor precedent. Politely follow up with late clients after 15, 30, 60 and 90+ day thresholds if necessary. You have paycheck to earn.
And if a client completely stops responding? Know when to cut your losses and stop work. Chasing non-payers rarely leads to payment. Just learn from it and move on.
Conclusion: Launch Your Freelance Writing Career
Hopefully this guide provided aspiring freelance writers with the actionable advice needed to start their successful freelancing journey, even with no prior paid writing experience.
Here are a few final reminders:
- Be patient – Building a steady client base takes time. Persist through the initial challenges.
- Constantly improve – Your writing skills must remain razor-sharp as a freelancer. Never stop learning.
- Stay connected – Join freelance writing communities to gain insights from experienced peers.
- Enjoy the ride – Writing should still bring you joy as a career. Don’t lose sight of why you started freelancing in the first place.
Freelance writing gives you the freedom and flexibility to write for passion and profit on your own terms. Now that you have the blueprint, it’s time to start your freelancing adventure!